Maxell Jones was an energetic young man, embarking on a promising year at the University of Central Florida when a cancer diagnosis turned his life upside down. But after a hard-fought battle over seven months, with the support of his family and the cancer experts at AdventHealth, Max found his way back to health with a new lease on life — and a new plan for his future.
“It all started in November 2017,” says Max. “I woke up one morning with a terrible rib pain. It felt like I had broken a rib, but I hadn’t done anything that could have broken it.” After enduring a week of pain that didn’t seem to subside at all, Max made an appointment with his doctor.
The doctor initially thought Max had costochondritis, an inflammation of cartilage in the rib cage, which can range from mild irritation to severe pain and often mimics heart attack symptoms.
But a couple months passed, and the pain continued to get much worse. Max was unable to take deep breaths and sneezing or coughing was excruciating. The pain had spread to multiple ribs. He returned to the doctor and was given some blood tests and a nuclear bone scan. When Max went back for his follow-up appointment, he was shocked at the results. His doctor told him that the tests indicated something wrong with his bloodwork, and that it could be cancerous.
More specifically, Max was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Max’s doctor told him he needed to go to the hospital immediately, so Max, his mother and his older sister went home to quickly pack some clothes before driving to AdventHealth Orlando where Max was admitted. “The car ride there was a sob fest,” says Max. “They called the rest of my family to tell them the news. My mom and sister were inconsolable, but not me. Something inside me told me that I was going to be OK. The phrase ‘God’s got this’ kept repeating in my head and gave me peace. Strangely enough I was the person in the car calming everyone down and saying that everything was going to be alright.”
When they arrived at the hospital, Max was admitted and made comfortable in the adult oncology floor and stayed there for a couple days while Max’s team of medical experts ran tests to confirm the diagnosis. On February 5, 2018, Max was officially diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and was moved to the AdventHealth for Children cancer unit where he could receive a more personalized and intense regiment for his treatment. His treatment program included chemotherapy for leukemia, followed by a bone marrow transplant.
“The first couple of weeks were a huge change in my life,” says Max. “I started chemotherapy on the first day I was there.” The first month of treatment, known as induction, was filled with some of the most difficult days of Max’s journey. “I began to lose my hair. I began to lose feeling in the tips of my fingers, and I felt super sick. The worst thing — the thing that was constantly on my mind was that I had to withdraw from UCF.” When Max’s world was rocked by his diagnosis, he was only one class away from entering UCF’s nursing program and he was eager to get his degree.
“Looking back, I’m grateful that I had to take that break because it helped me realize exactly what I want to do in the nursing field. Interacting with the incredible team at AdventHealth every day was so valuable not only for my health, but because it inspired me to become a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatric bone marrow transplants,” says Max. “And one day, I’d like to return to the same hospital that treated me and serve others going through the same thing I did.”
As Max continued treatment, he faced many highs and lows. “I was especially grateful for the chance to talk with the amazing nurses on my floor, while getting chemo. Not only were they warm and engaging to talk to, but they were super supportive and offered me great advice when I told them that I was studying to become a nurse.” Things became difficult when Max had an allergic reaction to one of his chemotherapy medicines. “My airway started to close, and I began to itch all over. Thankfully, the nurse that was administering it was right by my side and knew just how to stop the reaction and keep me safe.”
When he began his cancer treatment journey, Max was just an ordinary teenager entering college with big hopes for his future. And after an intense eight months, Max’s cancer was officially in remission. When asked what advice he would give to someone in his situation, Max has this to say: “Never lose hope. No matter how hopeless things may look, things are so much easier if you keep a positive attitude.”